Saturday 24 February 2018

Eugene McGee: Tipp deserve their day of delight -but how did it come to this for Cork's proud tradition

Peter Acheson of Tipperary scores a point under pressure from Colm O’Driscoll. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Peter Acheson of Tipperary scores a point under pressure from Colm O’Driscoll. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Eugene McGee

Eugene McGee

The last time Tipperary footballers beat Cork the former Taoiseach Jack Lynch was in his prime as a member of the Cork football team. And Cork were a handy enough side too because the very next year they went on to win the county's third All Ireland football title.

The year was 1944 and we were in the middle of World War Two or 'The Emergency' as it was called in these parts.

Thankfully we are living in more sedate times, but the shock of what happened in Semple Stadium, where Tipperary footballers had their biggest win since 1944 by beating Cork by 3-15 to 2-16, is as great as it was back then.

By any standard this was a sensational result. Even though football in Tipperary has being going from strength at under-age level - as is shown by their success in winning the 2011 All-Ireland minor title and reaching the Under-21 final against Tyrone last year - the senior team's prospects seemed to have been seriously set back when Colin O'Riordan, one of their outstanding U-21 players, went off to Australia to play in the AFL with the Sydney Swans.

In addition, the county's hurling team officials made it clear that dual players would have to play hurling rather than football if required and that deprived the senior football panel of a few more players.

But a good manager is the starting point for any football revolution and Tipperary found their man in Liam Kearns from Kerry.

In 2004, he almost pulled off as big a shock as yesterday's when he managed Limerick and they drew with Kerry in the Munster final and could easily have won the replay before losing by four points in Killarney.

He obviously is not intimidated by Kerry and Cork in the Munster championship, but yesterday's result must be the highlight of his career - unless of course he gets his revenge on his native county in the upcoming Munster Final on July 3.

Sensational results in sport very often are decided by what happens in the closing minutes of the contest and so it was yesterday.

Cork had played very poorly for long periods 2-7 to 0-6 behind at half-time and found themselves trailing by a staggering 3-13 to 1-10 with eight minutes left to play.

At 2,734, the attendance in the giant Semple Stadium was shamefully meagre for two of the biggest counties in Ireland, but at least Cork gave the supporters value for money when they tried to stage a smash-and-grab victory and managed to draw level with time nearly up.

For donkey's years in these contests involving Tipperary footballers the result would then have followed a familiar doleful conclusion - Cork would snatch a couple of late scores and Tipp would go home shattered and despondent yet again for the umpteenth time.

But there is a new sense of pride and commitment in Tipperary football nowadays and this time it was they who snatched the vital couple of late points - Kevin O'Halloran landing a '45 and a free.

There was disbelief all around the place as Tipperary players mentors and supporters had to pinch themselves or each other before realising the enormity of what happened: 'We are after beating Cork, we are into the Munster football final, come on Kerry let's have you!'

The joy was unconfined.

The fixture makers had assumed the Munster final would be a clash between Kerry and Cork and the game was fixed for Killarney as Páirc Uí Chaoimh is being rebuilt nowadays.

But will that fixture still stand now that Cork are not involved ?

Surely Tipperary have a strong case for seeking to have the game played in Thurles or at least at a neutral venue like the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick.

By the way, the Munster Council will be disappointed too because the loss of revenue on a Tipperary-Kerry final could be close on half a million euro. That's a sore blow for the administrators.

But for now the GAA world will salute Liam Kearns and his gallant warriors.

Remember, Clonmel Commercials led by the brilliant Michael Quinlivan this year won the Munster club championship and were quite unlucky not to go on to win the All-Ireland.

So there is plenty of football in Tipperary - just ask Cork about that!

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